Robin and her mother, Bobbie Conte.

Robin and her mother, Bobbie Conte.

By Robin Jean Marie Conte

There are stories everywhere—in the stars, in the trees, in the grasses and glades. We find in those places heroes and monsters and fairies; we find remembrances of our past and hope for our future.

I grew up surrounded with stories and delighted by them, because my mother is a storyteller.

She earned a degree in library science at Simmons College and a Master’s at Emory, and became a children’s librarian (in the days before there were “media specialists”). She was the librarian at my elementary school and for years was the children’s librarian at Maude Burris Library in Decatur.

My mother chose themes for her story hour, selecting her books accordingly, and she embellished her story-time with music, dance, puppets and handmade tokens. She had a special talent for lifting the tales right off the page with her voice until the stories wrapped themselves around roomfuls of squirming children like a charmed cloak and left them completely entranced.

So it was high time that this year I should give mom the chance to tell her own stories. I booked an hour-long session with StoryCorps at the Atlanta History Center, where I would interview her in a taped sound booth. The time came and her stories unfolded. She talked about her grandparents who emigrated from Italy: her grandfather, a dapper shoemaker, and her grandmother, a mother of seven who learned English from her children and then continued her English language education by walking to classes until she earned her certificate of completion.

Mom told of her mother, who went to work at a candy store after school at age 13, calculating purchases and change on the back of a brown paper bag and presenting her salary to her father each week, in a sealed envelope.

Mom remembered watching an airplane writing letters in the sky as a young girl in Brooklyn. Because it was the day after her birthday and she recognized the letter “R” from her name—and because she was of the tender age when she was sure that the world revolved around her—she thought it was spelling out her name as a wonderful surprise. But it was December 7, 1941, and the airplane was writing WAR in the sky.

Her father, in the Navy reserves, was deployed within days.

Mom told the story of how she met my father, the love of her life, and about their courtship and early marriage. She talked about his strength and quick wit throughout their marriage, a humor which endured in spite of the pain of his cancer. And she spoke of how dearly we miss him now.

I have a CD copy of our session. It sits on my counter beside some candid family snapshots, as a reminder to us to continue telling our stories. And we do.

Every second of our lives is an experience. And I sometimes wonder which of our experiences will take shape into a story — solid enough to be passed around, resilient enough to withstand the passing? Which ones will lodge in our memories, and our children’s memories, and be handed down to their children and grandchildren? Which experiences, though they seem mundane to us now, will shed a glimmer of insight into our lives for those who look at us from the vast prospective of future generations?

This year was filled with new experiences for our family — some adventurous, some silly, some mundane. But they hold the promise of more stories: eight Boy Scout buddies at Philmont Scout Ranch; seven hours of icy gridlock, six people reunited for Thanksgiving, five hours at the Smithsonian homosapiens exhibit; four extracted wisdom teeth; three days at Cumberland Island; two graduations — two wonderful celebrations, and one massive zucchini.

We all have a lot to talk about.

So cozy around the fireplace in this deep December, with the people you love and a mug of something hot. “Take a cup of kindness, yet, for auld lang syne.”

And as another year ends, tell your stories.

Robin Conte is a writer and mother of four who lives in Dunwoody. She can be contacted at robinjm@earthlink.net.

 

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